The Case Study of the “Bare Hook Fly”

Rim Chung often points out that the other thing to keep in mind is that when we talk about “closely matching the hatch,” we may not be talking about using a fly pattern that most loosely resembles the living insect.  Instead, a more impressionistic fly that most closely mimics the behavior of the emerging insects, while still generally resembling the insect, might be better suited to catching more fish.

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Further, he made the point once in talking about presentation versus pattern.  He said in that regard, “We were making an artificial distinction in the debate of presentation versus pattern.”  What do we mean by a “good presentation” except that we are trying with our presentation to match the behavior of the insect in the water, which is generally the same thing we are trying to do with our choice of fly pattern.

Whether it was due to matching the hatch (problematic but possible), impressionistic representation of the fly (also problematic but possible), or simply good presentation, Rim impressed upon me (on the San Juan River) his case study that he conducted where a bare red hook worked just as well as a traditional pattern tied on a bronze or black hook with red thread wrapped on it, as there are lots of small annelids there called blood worms. So he made the point, “Perhaps the fly is not as important as we think.”  This challenged all of my preconceived notions of fly fishing, seeing him catch dozens of fish on a bare red hook.

In researching his case study for myself, I discovered that the bare hook was effective on trout and this point was also discovered by many other anglers, one among them, Oliver Kite, who wrote about this in the 1960’s.  Kite, who was a pupil of the late-great inventor of the Pheasant Tail, Frank Sawyer, and called it the Bare Hook Nymph. Kite thought it was a logical extension of the Sawyer Pheasant Tail Nymph, but slimmer.  Kite was a student of Frank Sawyer (lived opposite to him and later had a falling out with his master) and learnt everything he knew about nymph fishing from Sawyer. Kite was a broadcaster, and one of his tricks was to catch grayling with this nymph while, blindfolded using the Sawyer “induced take.”  The details of the Bare Hook Nymph are to be found in Kite’s book Nymph Fishing in Practice.

So the first question to ask may be, “What does the fly add to the angler’s method?”  Clearly, the method, technique and rigging, may be equally or more important than the usual question of “What fly are you using?”

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